Link between legalised Prostitution and Human Trafficking

In a world where no country is immune to human trafficking according to the UN, and where the trafficking of children is on the rise according to the United Nations, There is no place in the world where children, women or men are safe from human trafficking as stated by the UNODC Executive Director, Yury Fedotov.

According to the Global Slavery Index, there are 36 million known slaves in the world today, and every year, 2 million children are being trafficked according to the International Labor Organization’s 2002 estimation in the Every Child Counts, New Global estimate on Child Labour Report. 

According to a United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime Report, the crime of trafficking in persons affects virtually every country in every region of the world.

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, victims are trafficked from 127 different countries and undergo exploitation in 135 countries around the world (UNODC 2006).

The UNODC Report goes on to reveal that approximately half of all detected trafficking victims are adult women.

Women comprise the vast majority of the detected victims who were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Australia is a destination country for human trafficking and slavery, and contributes to the demand of trafficked persons through sex tourism:

Australia is currently part of the problem. Project Respect, estimated in 2009 that up to 1,000 victims were under debt bondage in Australia.

Australia has been reported as being a destination country for human trafficking - with victims being trafficked from predominantly China, Korea and Thailand, with many being coerced into exploitative conditions.

Australians have been identified as child sex tourists in 25 tourist destination world wide - predominantly in the Asian and Pacific countries, and identified as the largest group of sex tourists prosecuted in Thailand.

Between 1995 and 2006, Australians made up the largest percentage of perpetrators arrested and prosecuted for Child Sex tourism in Thailand. 60% of Australian men who visit Thailand are there as sex tourists.

Human trafficking is often the result of various push and pull factors:

- Men's demand for prostitution and pornography has been identified as the number one factor.

- 79% of all global trafficking is for sexual exploitation.

- Sex Trafficking is a $7-10 Billion per annum industry.

- Sex trafficking is fuelled by a demand industry from 'Johns'.

- The demand for sexual servitude is also fueled by the pornography industry.

Reasons for trafficking in persons:

There are various push – pull factors of trafficking including poverty, gender inequality, unemployment, lack of education, exploitation, coercion, deception, debt bondage and also cultural pressure and harmful ideologies in matriarchal societies.

The biggest reason for trafficking of persons is the demand for trafficked persons in labor industries, in sexual servitude, as child brides, through adoption and for organ harvesting, coordinated by international criminals.

It is also important to see trafficking through the lens of migration theory – the utilisaiton of economic perspective in terms of the demand-pull factors and supply-push factors.

Australia is a destination country for people who have been trafficked. The exact number of people trafficked to Australia each year is not known, but between 2003 and 30 June 2015, the AFP received 588 referrals for human trafficking and slavery-related offences. In 2014-15, the AFP received 119 new referrals.

This is an increase from 70 new referrals in 2013-14, indicating the growing number of trafficking cases that are being identified as part of the developing Australian response.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime  (UNODC) Human Trafficking Case Law Database contains approximately 1,000 case briefs from 80 countries in which all three constituent elements of the internationally agreed upon definition of trafficking in persons: the act, the means and the purpose of exploitation.

There are various forms of trafficking, including: trafficking for the purpose of sexual servitude, labour trafficking, the trafficking of child brides, organ transplant tourism and child trafficking through inter-country adoptions.

  1. Trafficking for the purpose of sexual servitude:

Each week in Victoria, more than 60,000 men buy women in prostitution. Thanks to investigations like those carried out recently by The Age and Four Corners[1], we know that some of the women they buy have been trafficked.

Estimates from police and the legal brothel industry put the number of illegal brothels at 400 in Victoria, four times the number of legal ones, and legal brothels are being used as fronts for illegal operators and criminal activity. Brothel owners have been caught bribing local government officials to warn them of licence checks.

A 44-year-old Melbourne brothel owner, Wei Tang, became the first person in Australia to be convicted of possessing slaves after she brought five Thai prostitutes into Australia and held them in sexual servitude, demanding they sleep with up to 900 men to pay off their "debts". She was sentenced to 10 years' jail in 2009.

In 2013, a Sydney madam, Chee Mei Wong, was jailed for six years for keeping six women - recruited from Malaysia into Australia on student visas - in sexual servitude in a brothel on the city's north shore of Melbourne.

The Sydney Morning Herald[2] exposed an operation luring Asian women in a student visa scam that funneled them into Sydney brothels where they were forced to sell sex and drugs for up to 20 hours a day.

After arriving in Australia on travel visas, dozens of women from Hong Kong and Thailand were found to be met by brothel managers who lodge study visa applications on their behalf. While most submissions failed, appeals were routinely lodged in the knowledge the process takes up to two years, during which time, the women were at the mercy of traffickers who restricted their freedom and forced them to work around the clock as prostitutes.

Many of these impressionable and vulnerable girls waiting for their student visas to Australia are oblivious to this reality before arriving. In this particular operation, the girls were dispersed between two brothels in Blacktown and an associated parlour in Sydney's south. 

In 2012-13, 3446 appeals against refusals were lodged from 290,761 student visa applications submitted over the same period. Allegations of sexual exploitation through student visas stretch back to at least February 2012, when the Australian Federal Police arrested the Chinese-Cambodian owner of the Diamonds 4 Ever brothel in Guildford.

In The Australian[3], a young Korean girl Ji-min, who is barely out of her teens describing how she was lured from Korea to Australia in early 2012 by a "recruiter" who told her there was great demand in Melbourne for karaoke singers who could dance.

She was told she owed more than $8000 in travel and accommodation costs and that she would become a sex worker to pay off the debt - at a rate of $70 for each man she serviced. She wanted to run but had nowhere to go. She couldn't speak English and had no money to return to Korea.

"The rate of investigations, prosecutions and convictions in Australia remains stubbornly and unacceptably low relative to the presumed size of the problem," says Anne Gallagher, Australia's pre-eminent expert on slavery, who in 2012 was presented with an award by Hillary Clinton for her global work on criminal justice responses to trafficking.

These slaves in Australia are mostly Thai, Korean and Chinese women who are lured here under false pretences and held hostage to debt bondage. A study in 2012 by the universities of Queensland and Sydney estimates that as many as 2000 women each year are trafficked into Australia, and most end up working in brothels in Sydney and Melbourne. "They are facing a lot of immediate health consequences, legal consequences, economic consequences from the situation," says the study's co-author, Professor Julie Hepworth.

This ABC Four Corners documentary[4] reveals how demand drives the prostitution rink and therefore fuels human trafficking, and how alleged traffickers in Taiwan work in partnership with brothels in Melbourne to identify, prey on, traffic and enslave vulnerable young women into prostitution in Melbourne, Australia.

Our law enforcement mechanisms need to be more stringent when it comes to international crimes such as human trafficking and sexual servitude, and Australia needs greater cooperation with neighboring countries of origin such as Taiwan, China, Thailand, Cambodia to ensure swift prosecutions can take place and victims are set free and rehabilitated.

The link between prostitution and trafficking cannot be ignored:

There is overwhelming evidence that prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing, and that it fuels sex trafficking.

This link needs to be recognized legislatively and socially.

We need to move toward practical action to reduce the demand for prostituted women.

We need to criminalize the purchase of sex in Australia.

In Sweden it is understood that any society that claims to defend principles of legal, political, economic, and social equality for women and girls must reject the idea that women and children, mostly girls, are commodities that can be bought, sold and sexually exploited by men


We think that prostitution is one of the worst expressions of the unequal division of powers between men and women and this does not only bear on the prostitutes or those who buy the prostitutes’ services but the whole of society. This is why we are now suggesting a criminalisation of the sex buyers. We are convinced that it will change attitudes and decrease violence in society. We are convinced that it will also decrease prostitution.

Anne Maria Holli 2004

It is estimated that 50 to 90% of prostitutes do not practice the profession voluntarily (SPIEGEL, 2013) and those who do have come into it as a last resort. 

According to Dr Melissa Farley,  the average entry age into prostitution is 13; 65% to 95% of prostituted women have been sexually assaulted or raped before they entered prostitution; and 75% of women in prostitution are or have been homeless at some point in their lives.

Further to this, Dr Farley has found:

  • nearly half of prostitutes were victims of incest;
  • 83% of prostituted women are addicted to substances such as heroin, cocaine, cannabis and alcohol;
  • 54% of prostitutes suffer from very severe depression;
  • 42% of prostitutes had at least committed one suicide attempt, many suffering from psychological disorders;
  • 70% to 95% of women in prostitution working in the street have been physically assaulted during the exercise of prostitution;
  • 41% of women were attacked in brothels;
  • 60% to 75% of people were raped while in prostitution; and
  • 85% and 95% want to leave prostitution, but have no other means of survival. 

These statistics brings into question the voluntariness or choice a person has to becoming a prostitute.

Legalised prostitution increases tolerance for violence against women and children, including sexual violence, and increases child prostitution and creates a demand for human trafficking.

An international academic research study concludes that the legalisation of prostitution leads to a rise in the exploitation of vulnerable women and girls through human trafficking.

Cases of trafficking convictions:
From 2004 to 2013, there have been 390 investigations and 17 people have been convicted of slavery, sexual servitude or trafficking related offences. In April 2013, it was reported that the first person in Australia had been convicted of child sex trafficking and was sentenced to nine years jail, eligible for parole after just four years.

Successful prosecutions for human trafficking remain difficult to achieve because victims are often reluctant witnesses. In 2013, the AFP arrested members of a human trafficking syndicate suspected of trafficking women into Victoria from Asia for a decade. 

Australian Cases include:

  1. Chee Mei Wong (2013)– charges relating to sexual servitude and debt bondage
  2. Watcharaporn Nantahkhum (2012) – charges relating to slavery and debt bondage
  3. Mao Ru Zhang (2012) – charges relating to sexual servitude and debt bondage
  4. Song Chhoung Ea (2012) – charges relating to trafficking, sexual servitude and debt bondage
  5. Zoltan Kovacs and Melita Kovacs (2010)– charges relating to slavery
  6. Trevor McIvor and Kanokporn Tanuchit (2010)– charges relating to slavery
  7. Namthip Netthip (2010) – charges relating to sexual servitude
  8. Wei Tang (2009) – charges relating to slavery
  9. Kam Tin Ho and Ho Kam Ho (2009) – charges relating to slavery
  10. Kam Tin Ho and Sarisa Leech (2009)– charges relating to slavery
  11. Keith Dobie (2009) – charges relating to trafficking
  12. Somsri Yotchomchin and Johan Sieders (2008) – charges relating to sexual servitude
  13. SallyCui Mian Xu, Ngoc Lan Tran and Jamie Lin Qi (2005) – charges relating to sexual servitude and slavery
  14. Danny Kwok, Hoseah Yoe, Jenny Ong & Raymond Tan (2005)– charges relating to sexual servitude.

[1] Caroline Norma, “It’s time to get serious about sex trafficking in Australia” The Age, 13 October 2011:

[2] Eamonn Duff “Trafficking: Women lured with student Visas forced into sex slavery”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 March 2014:

[3] Cameron Stewart “Asian Slaves to the Australian Sex Industry”, The Australian, 1 February 2014:

[4] Sally Neighbour, “Sex Slavery”, ABC Four Corners, 17 October 2011:

 Prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes represent a serious obstacle to both social equality and gender equality.

“It is unacceptable that people – mostly women and children – are being purchased and exploited like merchandise. Victims of human trafficking and prostitution lose power over their lives and their bodies. They are robbed of the chance to enjoy their human rights.”

Nyamko Sabuni

Swedish Minister for 

Integration and Gender Equality

Around Australia there are hundreds of legal brothels. Thousands of women sell their bodies for profit. In this joint Four Corners/The Age special investigation, reporter Sally Neighbour exposes the brutal illegal off-shoot of the sex industry: sex slavery. In a report that exposes the worst excesses of human trafficking she reveals how networks of criminal gangs are luring women to Australia, where they are forced to work as sex slaves. If they refuse they are beaten and their families are threatened.

4 Corners ABC Report on Trafficking in Australia 2011

As we are a developed Nation in the Asia region, Australia has a human right responsibility to be a leading actor in not only combating human trafficking, but also curbing the demand for the commodificaiton of flesh.

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